Of the many things, parents wish for their children, not giving up on themselves is perhaps the most important. After all, research points to grit, perseverance, and persistence as the best predictors of academic and career success, along with overall happiness.
But, how do we show our kids not to give up on themselves? What can we teach them about staying persistent and focused despite adversity and distraction?
One answer is storytelling. This practice is as old as time, with generation after generation sharing virtues and life lessons through beautifully-crafted myths and legends. Now, parents can adopt that age-old practice–complete with its fantastical dragons and magical worlds–to demonstrate how to take on challenges and develop their skills–something I call the Campfire Method.
Every year, July 7th marks Tanabata or the Japanese Star Festival, when children write their dreams on colorful strips of paper to hang in elaborate celebrations. The festival builds on the ancient Japanese legend of Orihime, represented in the stars of the Milky Way. Here is my interpretation of the story:
Princess Orihime was the daughter of the King of the Sky. Growing up, she would practice cloth weaving on the banks of the Milky Way, a river of stars. Soon, her father noticed that Orihime had a natural talent as the clothes she made were the best in all of Heaven. The King loved his daughter’s weaves and praised her for her hard work, encouraging her to try new things and develop her skills, so Orihime worked very, very hard, and practiced every day. But working so much left Orihime sad and lonely with no time to make friends or fall in love.
Seeing this, the King arranged for his daughter to meet a hard-working cow herder named Hikoboshi from the other side of the Milky Way river. As soon as they met, they fell instantly in love. Hikoboshi brought so much joy to Orihime’s life that soon, she forgot all about her talent and stopped weaving altogether. And Hikoboshi forgot about his herd of cows and left them to wander all over Heaven.
Now, when the King saw his daughter so distracted, he became very disappointed. He brought Orihime back across the Milky Way, away from Hikoboshi, so that she could focus on her weaving again. This time, when he saw Orihime once again sad and lonely, he promised to reward her hard work and focus by letting her cross the Milky Way river once per year. But, if she did not continue to grow her talents and weave the beautiful clothes, the river would flood, and she would not be able to cross. In the first year, Orihime worked very hard, learning new designs and practicing every day. When the day came to cross the river, the rain had made the Milky Way impossible to cross. As she started to cry, her father sent down a flock of magpies to form a bridge for her to cross and see her beloved Hikoboshi.
Now, every year on July 7th, the rain tells us whether Orihime has indeed worked hard and can reunite with Hikoboshi, or if she must wait another year, as part of the Star Festival.
Using the Campfire Method, parents can tell this magical story while also highlighting several takeaways to help children with persistence and focus.
Find your special talents and gifts. When Orihime began to grow her weaving, her father took notice and encouraged her to pursue the skill further. You can help empower your child to discover their own talents by asking them what special skills they possess and which ones they want to grow.
Invest in it every day. We all know that talent can only take someone so far, but perseverance and dedication lead to continuous growth. Orihime developed her talent into a skill by practicing it every day and challenging herself to learn new things. Encourage your child to turn their special talents into skills like Orihime’s weaving, to stay focused and avoid distraction by doing a little bit every day.
Find a balance between work and play. While hard work and dedication are essential qualities, we know how important a work-life balance is key to life satisfaction. Orihime’s story beautifully illustrates this concept, as too much play brings her the same unhappiness brought on by too much work. By describing her experience in your reading of the story, you can set the example of creating that harmony between work and personal life, even from a young age.
Celebrate the festival with your child. Finally, bring this story and a part of Japanese culture to life with your children. Have your child write down their hopes for developing special talents this year–whether it is excelling in a subject at school or practicing a sport or musical instrument–on colorful strips of paper that you can hang in your home.
Drawing on the magic of the Japanese Star Festival and the story of Princess Orihime crossing the Milky Way can help you connect with your child while also engaging them in a powerful conversation around finding and developing their special talents.